The Newtown Pentacle

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Flushing River 1

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Just outside of the Newtown Pentacle’s north-eastern extant at LaGuardia Airport, beyond the feral Brother Islands and the caustic shores of Rikers Island, is found Flushing Bay.

Following the waters as they flow beneath the Whitestone Expressway, one will realize they are upon the Flushing River (or creek, depending on your source, but it’s actually a salt marsh). Like the nearby Newtown Creek, Flushing Creek is a heavily industrialized waterway with a long history of epic pollution and municipal abuse.

from wikipedia

The town of Flushing was first settled in 1645 under charter of the Dutch West India Company and was named after the port of Vlissingen, in the southwestern Netherlands. It is said that the name Vlissingen means “salt meadow,” given as a nod to the tidal waters of Flushing Meadows. As the English version of the name of the Dutch town is “Flushing”, the same English version was used by the town’s English-speaking inhabitants. During his presidency, George Washington arrived to Flushing by ferry across. The first road crossing, a drawbridge at Northern Boulevard, was built in the early 19th century.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A vast morass of clinging mud and knife edged grass, Salt Marshes are nevertheless exemplars of biological activity. The stinking mud, bubbling with sulfur and methane, digests organic filth surrendered to it by ocean wave, and provides purchase for tenacious carpets of grasses. This tough vegetable armoring of the shoreline allows more accretion of mud, and in this lilliput of the waves, hordes of multitudinous and loathsomely tentacled carnivores hunt those which are squirming and soft bodied, which form colonies or don shells in self defense. Above the fray, the lords of life and death in this environment truly are the vertebrates, especially those which fly.

from wikipedia

By the 1850s, a second crossing, Strong’s Causeway was built near the present-day Long Island Expressway, extending Corona Avenue towards Flushing. This crossing was located near the confluence of Horse Brook and Flushing Creek. In the mid-19th Century, the growing city of Brooklyn acquired the land around the creek and gave it for use to the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company, which turned the salt marshes into landfill. The pollution was chronicled by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, where Nick Carraway observed the “valley of ashes” on his train ride between Manhattan and Long Island.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Quiet tides and low rates of erosion allow mile after mile of boggy wetland to feed off the nutrient rich salt water, which becomes increasingly brackish as it mixes with fresh water flowing off and through the upland. In the case of the modern Flushing Creek, that fresh water is a combination of industrial runoff and cso’s (combined sewer outfall), along with whatever rain water manages to drip off the highways bridging it.

from wikipedia

In 1936, Robert Moses proposed closing the ash landfill and transforming it into a park through its use as a World’s Fair site. With the exception of the Willets Point triangle, the landfill was leveled, the creek bed was straightened, and the southern part of the creek was deepened to form the Meadow and Willow lakes. At its northern section, a tidal gate bridge was built to keep the East River tide from flooding into the park. By then, Horse Brook was long gone, covered by the future Long Island Expressway. Ireland Creek was also filled in for use as parkland to prevent flooding in the surrounding neighborhoods. Dammed and reduced in size, the creek became navigable only up to Roosevelt Avenue. Barges still docked on the river, bringing sand and gravel. At its southern end, the Jamaica subway yard reduced some of the flow coming from the headwaters.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, such modern interpretations of what was- until “just yesterday”- considered wasteland, would have been rejected by our progress minded antecedents. An elegant cocktail of petroleum distillates, industrial waste, and municipal sewage were freely combined and dumped directly into the water here for centuries.

When the highway pilings were driven, the fate of Flushing Creek was sealed for half a century, and the community that had symptomatically formed around and because of the waterway lost access to it.

Forgotten-NY, which of course has been everywhere, did a great and in-depth piece on the Flushing Creek (or River, depending)- check it out here.

from wikipedia

Citi Field is a stadium located in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in the New York City borough of Queens. Completed in 2009, it is the home baseball park of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets. Citi Field was built as a replacement for the adjacent Shea Stadium, which was constructed in 1964 next to the site of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. Citi Field was designed by Populous (formerly HOK Sport), and is named after Citigroup, a financial services company based in New York that purchased the naming rights. The $850 million baseball park is being funded by the sale of New York City municipal bonds which are to be repaid by the Mets plus interest. The payments will offset property taxes for the lifetime of the park.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 17, 2009 at 1:45 pm

One Response

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  1. […] the Flushing River just beyond Roosevelt Avenue was explored from the water in this November 2009 posting, and intriguing municipal machinery was observed along Roosevelt Avenue at Flushing’s Corona […]


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